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World Champs: local athletes could shine

As the popularity of athletics in Botswana continues to soar, the upcoming IAAF World Championships billed for August 4 in London could break the ceiling as Botswana looks set to field a strong team with pedigree. The probability curve shapes well in favour of local athletes come August.
 

Botswana has not won a medal at the championships since the 2011 edition in Daegu, South Korea. But with the current team, chances are that the barren years may be brought to a screeching halt – with the possibility of winning a medal almost approaching actuality.  


The country has relied on the heroics of the experienced Isaac Makwala and Amantle Montsho for some time, but the emerging sensations in Baboloki Thebe, Karabo Sibanda; and of course the resurgence of a rejuvenated Nijel Amos; as well as the enterprise of Onkabetse Nkobolo is demonstration that athletics Botswana has upped the tempo.


Botswana has fielded the cream of the lot for years especially in the 400m and 4x400m relay, and if recent records are anything to go by, it looks likely that global medals loom large on the horizon especially for the men’s senior relay team (4x400m), 400m and 800m categories.


The 4X400m Men’s Relay

The men’s 4x400m team is optimistic about this year’s prospects, following a strong global appearance and clocking 3:02.28, a Season’s Best (SB) in April’s IAAF World Relays in Bahamas. Even though a 2nd place finish was somewhat heart breaking for Batswana who yearned for pole finish in Nassau, it was an encouraging achievement because Botswana finally toppled the USA and its highly experienced former World Champion Lashawn Merritt, as well as Grenada’s Kirani James and possibly 400m whiz kid Wayde Van Neikerk in London. The athletes proved to have given it their best shot, finishing in podium position for the first time in Bahamas.

With Nkobolo and Makwala rearing to go, this gives team Botswana significant depth. One ambition for the aging Makwala is to decorate his glittering career with a global World medal and so are the red-hot young talents’ bids to consolidate their trade among top athletes at a global stage.

According to an experienced athletics coach, Oabona Theetso, Botswana’s 4x400m,  men’s relay team, Thebe (400m) and Amos (800m) both stand a chance of going up on the ranks by winning a medal at the World championships.
In an interview he said there has never been a better time where medals look set like this year. “The relay team will definitely notch a medal, given their season’s best at Bahamas and the individual performance of 400m – we should really be hopeful for a medal,” he explained.

Thebe: The 400m race marvel

In the 400m race, all factors remaining constant, Thebe is the only front-runner who is ready to mount serious pressure on both Merritt and Van Neikerk. The fast developing athlete is best paced to bring back a second medal (any) from the global spectacle.


In his last diamond league race, the 20 year old who is occupying the second spot in the Diamond League standings with 7 points clocked 44:02 in Lausanne. The times are impressive though the sprinting world record holder, Neikerk definitely looks poised for gold. He did an astonishing 43:62 in his latest race with Thebe and Makwala coming behind him. Another challenge for Thebe would be the US sprinter, Merritt who outran him in May at the Eugene meet. Merritt clocked 44:79 while thebe showed up a few seconds later with 44:95.

According to Theetso, Van Niekerk is the biggest threat for the local boys at the IAAF meet. “Our boys will have to break a sweat if they are to beat him, it shows that he (Van Niekerk) has been working on sprints considering the time he clocked in his 400m race,” said the coach. Makwala could be the dark horse in the race having clocked 44:08 last week in Lausanne.

Nonetheless Merritt has proven not be much of a threat as age is catching up with him. The last time the 31 year old was on track was in May and his mentors are perhaps sparing him the fatigue of competing in various races. “The only threat is Wayne (Neikerk),” Theetso reiterated.

As for Sibanda, who is experiencing an amazing season start; there is fear that his hamstring injury might stand on his way of him winning any medal. The sprinter has yet to be examined by specialists to fully assess the injury. His last performance was two months back where he couldn’t finish the race owing to the injury.  He, however might get to share in the glory if the relay team out performs other for podium finish.

800m: Nijel bounces back…

Olympics silver medallist, Amos has perhaps returned to his former glory, following a few upsets in some recent past competitions. “He is picking up at the right time, which is good for him and the nation,” Theetso highlighted. In Lausanne ‘Zorro’ clocked 800m world leading time (1:43) which certainly assures him of a medal. His rival David Rudisha is doing his preparations behind the scenes, but this shouldn’t disturb Amos, as his time speaks for him, the coach reckons.

For the female athletes, Montsho remains the only experienced runner of all. Since her fall from grace in 2015, a lot has changed in the 400m race. She clocked 49:56 in 2011 and the time hardly assures of any medal. Her preparations have been below par competing only in local meets clocking 52:02. Since then she has never been any active. However, prospect, Lydia Jele has proven to be the only candidate to surprise the world and probably bring a medal home.   

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